The National Gallery owns one of two versions of Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, an episode from the Gospel of Luke that took place immediately after the crucifixion, death, and disappearance of Jesus. Two disciples were slinking dejectedly away from Jerusalem when they met a wayfarer on the road who asked why they looked so unhappy. As they poured out their story, he replied that all these events had been predicted by the Hebrew prophets, “and beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning [the Messiah].”
When the three reached the village of Emmaus, the two disciples invited the stranger to dine with them, and when he took their loaf of bread and broke it, two things happened: they suddenly recognized that their traveling companion was Jesus come back from the dead, and he vanished. Afterward, “they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” Caravaggio presents a young, beardless Jesus at the table, as unrecognizable to us as he has been to his companions until this very moment—while to the solicitous innkeeper who serves them, the young man is still just a customer. This Supper at Emmaus is a work of early maturity, painted in 1601, with shiny, fresh colors and virtuoso turns like the fruit basket balanced on the table’s edge.